LAS VEGAS—Simulations of the human digestive system have proven to be useful tools for scientists studying how the body processes food from the mouth through the intestines, including how it separates the nutrients for absorption. This is according to a panel discussion during a symposium at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) 2012 Annual Meeting & Food Expo.
Scientists on the panel showed various models that mimic the human digestive system, including the Dynamic Gastric Model (DGM) developed at the Institute of Food Research, UK, and two Human Gastric Simulators (HGS) at the University of California-Davis. By using devices such as these, researchers can create peristaltic movement of the stomach walls, simulate gastric secretions, observe how food particles are broken down, and study the bioavailability of nutrients in the food.
Martin Wickham, PhD, head of nutrition at Leatherhead Food Research, said the development and acceptance of in vitro models of digestion offer an alternative to the ethically and technically challenging process of studying the multiple stages of digestion in vivo (within the person or animal). To do this in humans, the subject must agree to testing—some of it invasive—and even then the results can be affected by timing, health or other factors. It also is particularly difficult to get a picture of what happens in the small intestine, where most of the nutrient absorption takes place. This information is important in food product development because it provides proof that the nutrients being promoted are being absorbed, shows how diet impacts health, and provides information that can help manufacturers produce foods that will perform well during digestion.
“In vitro models for the prediction of human digestion have developed rapidly and gained acceptance in the last 10 to 15 years," Wickham said. “With the evolution of understanding of human gut physiology, models are becoming more sophisticated."